Pillbox

Emerson Quartet plays at Carnegie Music Hall

The Emerson Quartet returns to Pittsburgh tonight when it opens the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society’s 2008–09 season. At 8 p.m. at Carnegie Music Hall, the eight-time Grammy Award-winning Emerson Quartet will play quartets by Haydn (in F major, Opus 74, No. 1), Shostakovich (No. 14), and Dvorak (No. 14).

The Emerson Quartet, which has been together since 1976, is one of the world’s best string quartets. The technical achievement the group has attained is unrivaled, even if their interpretations sometimes lack depth. Having heard other works in the Chamber Music Society’s series in early 2007, audiences can expect playing of the utmost refinement and that the Emersons considered every detail, no matter how minute.

Though the Emersons won acclaim for their recordings of all of Shostakovich’s 15 quartets, they are sometimes out of their depth in the pieces, and their refined playing doesn’t serve Shostakovich’s quartets as well as it serves Haydn and Dvorak. However, Shostakovich’s penultimate quartet, written 1972–73 near the end of the composer’s life (he died in 1975), is more wistful than some of the terror-filled quartets like the eighth. Thus, the Emersons’ more restrained playing might come off well in this quartet.

Shostakovich’s quartets are incredibly personal and reflective of the harsh Soviet society in which he lived, and American ensembles, not just the Emerson Quartet, don’t come close to matching the raw emotion brought to these pieces like such Russian ensembles as the Borodin Quartet, which premiered some of Shostakovich’s quartets.

Call 412.624.4129 for tickets. Look for a review in next week’s Pillbox.